How to Maintain a Healthy Weight
As we age, it becomes harder to drop pounds and maintain a healthy weight. That’s because our metabolism slows down, we burn fewer calories and we lose lean muscle mass. It can be discouraging and for some, dangerous. But there are ways to maintain a healthy weight after 50, and it’s never too soon — or too late — to start.
Our metabolism slows as we age due to falling hormone levels. As testosterone levels drop, men tend to add body fat to their abdominal area. As estrogen levels fall, women often see a shifting of weight from their hips and buttocks to their mid-section. Our bodies also begin losing lean muscle mass starting around age 30, which may be a result of less active lifestyles. Being less active usually leads to burning fewer calories, and that often increases weight and fat mass, and decreases muscle mass.
Risks for 50 Health Problems
Becoming “apple-” shaped with thickness around the belly, and moving from “pear-” shaped to apple-shaped, is associated with an increased risk for disease. People who are overweight face a higher than average risk for about 50 health problems. A Harvard University study followed 170,000 people for 10 years. Among those who were overweight or obese, there was a direct relationship between body mass index (BMI) and risk of disease. The higher the BMI, the higher the risk. Obese members of the study were 20 times more likely to have diabetes, and had a substantially higher risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and gallstones.
There is a strong tie between being overweight and experiencing depression. People with obesity have a 55% higher risk of developing depression than those within the normal weight range. It’s also true that people who struggle with depression can feel too blue to eat well and exercise, making them more likely to gain weight.
Calculate Your BMI
The body mass index takes height and weight into consideration to calculate weight groupings: underweight, normal, overweight or obese. Click on this link to calculate your BMI. Note that this is for adults, 20 years and older.
How Weight Increases Risk
Being overweight can cause a variety of adverse effects on the body. Let’s look at high blood pressure. Being overweight requires more pressure to circulate blood throughout the body (this raises blood pressure). Having extra fat around the middle is more likely to cause the arteries to thicken and stiffen, making it harder for blood to flow, which in turn causes fluid retention and further increases blood pressure.
Extra fat cells, especially belly fat, can make it difficult for the pancreas to produce the necessary insulin to remove glucose (sugar) from the blood. Diabetes develops when the body becomes insulin resistant.
Extra body weight puts pressure on your bones, joints, heart and lungs. It can interfere with sleep and sometimes results in sleep apnea (brief pauses in breathing).
Treating the conditions associated with excess body weight can put people at risk for polypharmacy (taking more than 5 medications). While these medications may be essential for managing serious medical conditions, taking many medications increases the possibility of drug interactions and side effects that sometimes leads to the need for additional medication. Be sure to discuss your medications with your provider and understand why you take each one.
A Few Tricks to Try
Nutritionists recommend keeping a food diary. This helps you be more mindful of what and how much you eat. Make a note of those things (boredom, stress, anger) or foods (chips, ice cream) that trigger over-eating. The more aware you are of these triggers, the more control you can have over them. By weighing yourself regularly, you can monitor your progress.
One change may encourage you to make other changes. To start a doable — and sustainable — weight management plan, ask yourself: What is the one best change I can make? It may be starting a food diary, exercising regularly, cutting out caloric drinks or breads and pasta, etc. Pick one thing and stick with it until it becomes a habit. It will likely encourage other, new and healthy habits.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Many people complain that they eat and exercise the same as they have for years, but after 50, it becomes more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. As you know now, your metabolic rate is on the decline. You can increase your metabolism, by:
- Cleaning up your diet and adding more protein. Refined foods (white bread, baked goods) go right to the belly. Choose healthy meals and snacks (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, eggs, low-fat meat, fowl and fish). According to Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, you need 10% more protein starting in middle age. Protein-rich foods boost metabolism and help build muscle.
- Reducing stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is linked to the formation of belly fat and can affect insulin levels. Develop relaxing routines at the end of the day. Take time to meditate (quiet thinking) during stressful times. Exercise and adequate rest (below) may help too.
- Getting enough sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep. Getting less can cause stress and result in mindless eating. Carve out time for sleep. Turn off screens, bright lights and other distractions to set the stage for restful sleep.
- Exercising. Start small and work up to at least 30 minutes 4-5 days a week. While aerobic exercise (like running and biking that increases heart rate) is important for burning calories, research shows that weight or resistance training is the only type of exercise that can slow or even reverse the decline of muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when at rest. Alternate between aerobic exercise and resistance training. Ask a friend to join you so you can support each other.
Even losing 10 percent of your body weight can produce health benefits. Give your KnovaSolutions clinician a call. We will gladly provide resources and support as your work toward your goal! Call 800/355-0885, M–F, 8 am-5 pm, MT.
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The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.